Written By Ian Myer
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Lynch, told my class that he does charity for ALS. He mentioned he had two teachers who were diagnosed with the disease, one of whom unfortunately passed away. Mr. Lynch’s other teacher, Mr. Christopher Pendergast, has been battling ALS for 21 years, and started a nonprofit organization called ALS Ride for Life in 1997, which he still runs. He came to my school with his wife to speak about his charity with our class. Every May, he and his “PALS” (people with ALS) ride in their wheelchairs from Montauk to Manhattan to raise money and awareness for the disease.
On Mr. Pendergast’s second visit, my school was one of the many stops in his ride. As he and his PALS approached us, all the fourth and fifth graders were outside chanting, cheering, and holding signs to encourage the riders. It was truly an inspiring experience for me.
When I learned I had to do a mitzvah project at my synagogue, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, as a part of becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I knew right away that I wanted to help Mr. Pendergast’s cause. I contacted him and he asked me about my interests, to which I replied that I like sports (especially baseball) and spending time with my friends and family. He brainstormed fundraising ideas with me, and the idea that stuck to me the most was creating a sport memorabilia auction. I got to work right away, finding athletes’ addresses and e-mails with the goal of getting them to donate their memorabilia. I sent over sixty letters to different athletes and spoke to several of them, like Jim Leyritz (former Yankee) and Pete Stemkowski (former Ranger), on the phone. After collecting 15 pieces from individual athletes, I started contacting sports teams directly, who in turn sent autographed items from their team players. By the end of the collection process, I had around thirty pieces of signed sports memorabilia to be auctioned.
I also came up with the idea to go around to different local stores and ask if they could donate a gift certificate or store item. These items were to be part of a raffle auction in hopes to excite people to donate money even if they were not interested in the memorabilia. I managed to collect sixty raffle prizes and made forty raffle baskets, all of which were bid on and sold. They were a big hit. The most popular item was a signed photo of Cleon Jones catching the last out in the 1969 World Series. Before the event took place, I said to my dad that my goal was to raise at least $5,000, and if I raised more – it would be awesome. I ended up raising almost $10,000. I was ecstatic.
Through my mitzvah project of raising money for ALS Ride for Life, I learned about rejection, how to speak with people I have never met before, and how to get these people to believe in me. This experience changed who I am. When I thought of this project, I knew what I was doing was good and it would be “cool” to help others. I didn’t think it would make me a better person, and help me gain confidence to walk into a store and ask the manager to advocate for a cause, or talk on the phone with someone who was a key player in the Yankees 1996 World Series Championship and ask him to donate sports memorabilia.
In the beginning, Mr. Pendergast always told me to think big like he does. I thought that meant having big expectations, but by the end, I learned otherwise. It means to be able to see the impact of what you are doing on a large scale. I never thought I would be writing on NFTY’s blog about what I accomplished. I didn’t think that I, a normal thirteen-year-old boy, would be able to make a difference in the greater community. I always saw this commercial on TV about kids my age speaking to people about changing the world. Whenever I saw it, I thought to myself – “wouldn’t it be cool to be that kid who is such a leader?” I aspired to be like that. I feel that “thinking big” is being like these kids. Being a leader in my community and eventually in greater society. That is what Mr. Pendergast wanted me to strive for. I won’t urge every thirteen-year-old to go out and create a charity auction. But, I want them to ask themselves: “What am I passionate about?” and “How can I take my passion to help someone else?”